Friendship & Betrayal – Split or Steal Game
- Explore issues about friendship, cooperation, trust, and betrayal in a highly authentic and non-abstract way.
- Create the necessity for co-operative conversation between individuals or small groups.
- Have fun doing philosophy with a game involving prizes.
Time Needed: 40-50 minutes.
- Equipment to display a YouTube video clip for the class (with sound).
- A pair of red and green leaflets for each participant or group.
- Prizes for each student
- For younger students: Treats like donuts or strawberries which can be split in half.
- For older students: Treats like pizza or even money(!). Prizes must be compelling for the students in order to make the game an authentic experience.
- Cut out red and green leaflets from construction paper. These just need to be small enough to conceal while students are deciding which one to choose.
- Pre-load the “Split or Steal” video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3Uos2fzIJ0
- Hide the prizes for the beginning of the lesson!
- If playing the game one-on-one, arrange desks so that pairs of students can be face to face, mimicking the face-to-face arrangement in the video clip.
- (Optional) Warm up and get a sense of our intuitions about the topic either by presenting anecdotes, questions, or connecting to previous discussions.
Examples: “What makes someone a good friend?”, or “When is right to trust other people?”
- Next, begin the “Split or Steal” video clip. After the host explains the rules at the beginning of the clip, pause the video and make sure that everyone understands the rules. Once everyone is on the same page, proceed with clip.
This game calls to mind the cooperative nature of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. If both participants pick “Split” they get to split the prize, if one chooses “Split” while the other chooses “Steal” the one who chose “Steal” gets everything, and if both choose “Steal” neither participant gets anything.
- (Optional) The participants in the video both promise to “split” the prize, and do their best to convince the other that they can be trusted. You can pause the video again after this portion and poll the group about how they think the participants will act. Many students will automatically guess that the man in the video is lying.
- Proceed with the rest of the video clip. Afterwards, ask the group to share their reactions to the video. Often students are surprised and horrified that the woman could have stolen the prize. Sometimes they’ll label her as a “terrible person.” Pay attention to these reactions, as they can be brought up in discussion after the students play the game themselves.
- Next, you can reveal that the students are all going to have a shot at playing this game themselves. Everyone will be given a red leaflet and a green leaflet. The red leaflet signifies “Steal” and the green leaflet signifies “Split.” Show everyone what they’ll be playing for by revealing just enough prizes so that there is enough for everyone, but only if they are split in half (for example, in a class of twenty, reveal ten donuts).
- Explain that the consequences of our decisions in this game are very real: if you choose “Steal” and your classmate chooses “Split,” you will get a full portion of the prize, but deny your classmate anything. Emphasize that If both sides choose “Steal”, no prizes will be given out at all (tell them you will just eat the donuts yourself)
It is essential to emphasize that you are not bluffing when you say that some participants may not get a prize–otherwise students may believe that they won’t have to take their decision seriously. Generally students assume that in any classroom situation involving food or prizes, everyone will always end up with the same “fair” amount, and you’ll have to work to convince them that this will not be the case for this game. Whether you actually stick to this is up to you. With younger students you might want to give everyone the same prize in the end–this helps avoid tears.
- Tell everyone that there will be four stages to the game. In the first stage, ask each side to take a few minutes to think about how they’d like to proceed. In the second stage, each side will have a few minutes to discuss things with the other side. In the third stage, everyone will have a moment to think again about how they’d like to proceed. Finally, each side will submit one of their leaflets signifying whether they choose “Split” or “Steal.”
It’s up to you to decide whether you’d like the game to be played in one-on-one pairs (as in the video clip) or if you’d like to split the group into two teams. Emotions and tensions can be higher in the one-on-one version, which can either make for tears, a more authentic discussion, or both. When played in teams the game makes a great opportunity for cooperative decision-making and student-directed large group discussion, since each team will have to work together to determine whether they should “Split” or “Steal,” as well as work together to negotiate with the members of the other team.
- After all of the participants have submitted their decisions and let out their cries of astonishment or relief, divide up the prizes according to what they chose and ask different students to share how they feel about their decision. Students who “Steal” the prize from their classmates will often go from feeling clever to regretful as soon as they realize what they’ve done (choosing sometimes to share the prize anyway).
- Finally, set aside some time to consider the philosophical questions that the video clip and game have raised for the students, and then vote on which question(s) to discuss. This is usually a good time to compare how the students acted in the game with their reactions at the end of the video clip, but this discussion can go in a number of different directions. “Do we always stick to what we think is right?” “Why do people betray each other?” One student once exclaimed that games like this shouldn’t ever be played since they bring out the worst in human nature!
- (Optional) If there’s extra time, you can share this thought-provoking clip of a participant who begins by revealing to his opponent that he will “Steal” the prize money: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qjK3TWZE8
- This activity can be connected to prior discussions about ethical dilemmas or rules, especially if students have discussed whether there is a right way to treat others. Did students live up to their own standards about treating others when they were tempted by a prize?
This lesson plan was contributed by Dustin Groshong.